Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling another 1.13 million vehicles in North America after only three incidents during which its cars stalled, demonstrating how auto makers have become trigger-happy with recalls in the wake of the negative publicity Toyota endured earlier this year during a larger recall.
The recall is Toyota's 15th this year and covers its most popular car in Canada - the Corolla compact, which is built at one of the company's assembly plants in Canada. It also applies to the Canadian-made Matrix and to Pontiac Vibe models, which were assembled at a joint-venture assembly plant Toyota operated with General Motors Co., until the plant was closed earlier this year.
The publicity generated by the earlier Toyota recalls, a Congressional hearing into the matter and a public apology by company president Akio Toyoda, have caused all auto makers to move more quickly now to recall vehicles and head off potential negative publicity arising from what consumers might perceive to be a delay in dealing with defects.
"They got this black eye from these other issues," said Joe Phillippi, who heads Auto Trends Consulting Inc., in Short Hills, N.J. "Now it's a situation where you overreact to these things."
This latest recall "seems like a stretch," Mr. Phillippi said.
It applies to 2005-2008 Corolla and Matrix models in Canada and the United States. There have been three incidents of stalling because of problems with engine control units, which led to three accidents on U.S. roads.
Toyota Canada Inc. spokeswoman Sandy Di Felice said the company is not aware of any such incidents in Canada.
"Clearly definitions of various conditions that vehicles have experienced have evolved from where we were at a previous time in the automotive industry," Ms. Di Felice said when asked if three incidents would have led to a recall a year ago.
The latest recall affects about 136,000 Corollas and 64,000 Matrix models in Canada, all of which were assembled at the company's Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. assembly plant in Cambridge, Ont.
Toyota Canada will begin notifying owners of the recall in mid-September and will follow that with another letter when the replacement parts become available.
Toyota and its competitors are still dealing with the fallout from a blizzard of negative publicity the Japan-based auto maker endured earlier this year when it recalled 7.6 million vehicles because of problems related to floor mats trapping accelerator pedals or the pedals sticking on their own, which led to dozens of accidents and some deaths in the United States.
After that black eye for Toyota and the blemish to its reputation for quality, auto makers are "erring on the side of doing a recall, versus not doing a recall,'' Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a not-for-profit consumer advocacy group, told The New York Times this week. "All the manufacturers want to clean up their act and get defects and recalls behind them so the public doesn't question the safety of their vehicles.''
With files from The New York Times
KEY TOYOTA RECALLS IN THE LAST YEAR
Oct. 5, 2009: Toyota recalls 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the U.S. because floor mats could trap the gas pedal. Company later adds 1.5 million cars to the recall.
Jan. 21, 2010: Recalls 2.3 million Toyota vehicles in the U.S. because the accelerator pedal can stick, causing unintended acceleration. The issue is separate from the floor mat recall, although about 1.7 million of the vehicles are involved in both recalls.
Feb. 8: Recalls 440,000 of its flagship Prius and other hybrids worldwide for braking problems.
July 29: Recalls 412,000 vehicles in the U.S. to fix problems that can cause the steering wheel to lock up.
Aug. 26: Recalls 1.13 million Corolla sedans and Matrix hatchbacks in North America because their engines may stall.
The Associated Press